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An Ode To A River Called Nambul

Nambul River. Source: Friends of Loktak Pat FB

Several moons away, long, long ago, the river enjoyed its freedom flowing freely without hindrance all the way down south to meet the picturesque Loktak Lake, a short meandering flow of near around 54 kilometers from its watershed along the Kangchup hills west of Imphal.


By Salam Rajesh

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there flowed a river through the heart of Yumphal Khwairamband – more recognizable now as ‘Imphal’ from ‘Yumphal’ with changes in vocabulary usage through time – that was full of life, trimming with shoals of the Ngaton fish and lively with children yelling in delight as they plunged into its cool waters after school in the summer months. This was the story of the river Nambul decades back, as fresh and healthy as it could be, but sadly, barely a shadow of its former self today.

Several moons away, long, long ago, the river enjoyed its freedom flowing freely without hindrance all the way down south to meet the picturesque Loktak Lake, a short meandering flow of near around 54 kilometers from its watershed along the Kangchup hills west of Imphal. All that changed when a notorious man-made structure sprung up at Ithai Khunou village downstream of the Manipur River in the late 1970s, blocking the free-flow of the rivers Manipur and Khuga, and consequently altering the dynamics of the Manipur River basin entirely.

And, once upon a time, long, long ago, it was a sight to be seen when women potters from Thongjao and Chairen villages paddled their dugout canoes up to Yumphal Khwairamband – now more generalized as Imphal market – all the way from their homes in Thoubal District taking the river course of Manipur River – Imphal Turel at some stretch – then through Loktak Lake and further on north to the river Nambul to reach Yumphal Khwairamband and their sell their ware.

As a school going kid, this writer who lives by the south bank of the river Nambul in uptown Yumphal, and school mates spent many a pleasant days enjoying the warmth of the river, splashing around with all those kids from across Sagolband and Uripok, and diving in to grope for mussel. The river was too full with the gleeful chatter of the kids, added with that chorus of reprimand from the women with their Chinese dip nets for disturbing the fish. Now, all that has since become a distant dream!

Many, many moons ago, when the community ponds in the nearby locales dried up in the winter months, it was only natural to pump up water from the Nambul to feed the thirsty ponds and cease the worries of the women with all their household chores to complete. That, again, is a thing of the past now for the Yumphal urban population. The Government unconsciously had erected a barricade that de-links the locals from the river, absolutely de-connecting the river from the human population within city limits.

Four decades and more later, half-way through the journey of life, this writer sees the river hopelessly appealing to the ‘change-makers’ for its rights of passage – to flow free once again. All through these years, the arguments had moved forth and back on the disagreed discussion to lift the barrage at Ithai and let the Nambul (and the Manipur River) flow free, so much as the global voice is ever growing louder and louder to let rivers flow free all across the world.

For the untutored in the Yumphal urban area, it would definitely surprise them to learn that the River Thames – an important feature of London city in England – is considered one of the world’s cleanest rivers running through a city, despite of the fact that once upon a time gone by, this very river was declared ‘biologically dead’ by scientists working at the Natural History Museum in London. 60 years down the line hence, it is now a thriving, clean river! Hark, Yumphal city planners.

“Healthy rivers for fish are also healthy rivers for people, providing societal benefits, such as recreation, transportation, culture, health and resilience to climate change impacts”, says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This thinking comes in the backdrop of the international communities’ push for ‘Global Swimways’, with the stated argument that ‘Swimways’ have immense potential to direct river conservation and restoration of rivers through policy and implementation, and that ‘many migratory freshwater fishes are threatened and yet provide a major source of food security and livelihoods for communities globally’.

This, again, was true of the river Nambul. In the years gone by, migratory fish like Ngaton (Labeo bata) swam up in large numbers in the summer months and they provided food and the means of earning livelihood for scores of families living by the riverside. There were also so many other variety of fish – like the favoured Ngasep (Mystus cavasius), mussel, snail, and edible insects that fed many a mouth. Alas, this is a thing of the past for the Yumphal residents in the present times.

The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Rivers pronounces six fundamental rights of a River. These rights demand: The Right to Flow, The Right to Perform Essential Functions within its Ecosystem, The Right to be Free from Pollution, The Right to Feed and be Fed by Sustainable Aquifers, The Right to Native Biodiversity, and The Right to Regeneration and Restoration.

Furthermore, the Declaration says, “Rivers are essential to all life forms by supporting a wondrous diversity of species and ecosystems, feeding wetlands and other aquatic habitats with abundant water, delivering life-giving nutrients to coastal estuaries and the oceans, carrying sediments to river deltas teeming with life, and performing other essential ecological functions”.

Would our leadership be aware of this? What about our policy planners? No offence meant, but seeing the pitiful condition in which humanity had left the river Nambul to fend for itself amidst the growing din and noise of life in the city, and human crises one upon the other, it does feel like no one is least bothered whether the river lives or dies.

As the writer MK Binodini once said, humanity has lost all sense of humanism in the modern times. With humans locked in mortal combat fueled by political ambitions in Manipur today, it perhaps can be sadly concluded that there is hardly room left in human heart to let rivers – like the Nambul – live freely, healthily, and happily.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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